When Does Single-Person Accountability Increase Performance?

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Sonya shelton

CEO & Founder

buck stops here
Reading Time: 2 minutes

buck stops here
President Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” Well, this saying derives from the slang expression “pass the buck,” which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. On more than one occasion, President Truman referred to the desk sign in public statements. For example, in an address at the National War College in 1952 President Truman said, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you — and on my desk I have a motto which says ‘The Buck Stops Here’ — the decision has to be made.”

Within your organization, do you allow your team to defer all responsibility to you as their chief?  Of course, you must lead, but do you encourage your staff to take responsibility and ownership?

As organizations grow, executives can lose sight of the need for single-person accountability. They start to move to consensus decision-making and diffuse responsibility. This results in slow decision-making, inefficiencies, political maneuvering, and internal competition for credit. If anything goes wrong, it usually leads to blame and finger pointing.

When you make high-performing employees accountable for success, they want to perform well and deliver results. They can still collaborate with others and should be expected to do so. However, when you’re clear about overall accountability and assign outcomes to one person, you will see much better results. When no one is accountable, priorities can be shifted based on interest or time. The accountable person prioritizes because the measure of their performance is on the line.

Be sure to give the person with accountability the freedom to run with their ideas to get the right results. If you get too involved, they might lose focus or think you are taking back the accountability from them. You chose a high performer for a reason. You can check in on status and provide guidance when necessary, then trust them to get the job done well.


How will you ensure your organization has single-person accountability?

What will you do to support those people who are accountable for success?


“Responsibility is the price of greatness.”

~ Winston Churchill



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